I can’t believe Richard Fleischer’s grim noir Follow Me Quietly (1949) doesn’t get more attention. It’s a mind-of-the-killer police procedural in the same mold as Manhunter (1986), following policeman Harry Grant (William Lundigan) and his obsession with a serial killer who calls himself the Judge. It’s the kind of corrosive, no-holds-barred noir where a newspaper editor recounts being strangled and shoved out a window via an almost-wordless flashback, and then immediately dies.
Really, I’m astonished that Follow Me Quietly—which fits several murders, Grant’s nonstop investigation, and a tooth-and-nail fight to the death into barely an hour—isn’t hailed as a classic of serial killer cinema. The Judge is such a tantalizing villain, communicating with the press and police through ominous, moralizing missives styled like ransom notes. However, the focus is really on Grant, whose fixation on catching the Judge borders on pathological.
To this end, Grant has a mannequin built to reflect every clue about the Judge’s appearance; thus, a faceless figure haunts his office for much of the film. It’s just one of many moody touches that color the film, which is distinguished by its rail-thin plotting: it’s solely about Grant trying to catch the Judge while an intrepid newswoman (writing for a sleazy true-crime publication) tries to cover the story. No subplots, no bullshit, no wasted time. Just Grant, the mannequin, and rain-slicked city streets. (The Judge always kills in the rain.)
When we learn the Judge’s identity, it’s no surprise. He’s just a bookish, middle-aged, psychopathic nobody. But his sheer anonymity, like the generically industrial complex where he has his showdown with Grant, hints at the film’s overarching postwar pessimism. The world’s evil is no longer concentrated in Berlin, Follow Me Quietly seems to say. Now it’s lurking around every American street corner. It eats lunch and reads newspapers. Like the mannequin, it could be anyone. And maybe the Judge and Lt. Grant aren’t so different after all.